Nate McLouth is currently penciled in as the Atlanta Braves' leadoff hitter for the 2010 season.
All of this has many questioning whether or not he should bat first.
The main reason that McLouth is so firmly entrenched in the leadoff role is that the Braves lack a true leadoff hitter.
But perhaps, if only for a year or two, Jason Heyward could fill that role.
Firstly, I believe that McLouth should be given every opportunity to hit leadoff when the season begins. Personally, I think he will improve on his 2009 numbers (although his .352 on-base percentage was already solid, and that’s the main thing you need as a leadoff hitter).
While McLouth is hitting first, Heyward will hit toward the bottom of the lineup, giving him time to get acquainted with major league pitching in a lower-stress situation.
Assuming that McLouth struggles and Heyward begins the season playing up to expectations, Heyward might be an ideal leadoff hitter next year.
While Heyward undoubtedly has a future in the middle of the Braves order, his power has yet to fully develop, and up to this point in his career he hasn’t hit more than 17 home runs in a single season.
Also, the Braves (assuming everyone stays healthy) have the middle of their order set, and he wouldn't be "needed" there.
Heyward has already shown (both in the minors and spring training) an amazing eye at the plate, which has led to a high on-base percentage.
His minors on-base percentage is .391, and he has walked about once in every 10 plate appearances in his career. At spring training this year, Heyward has seven walks in 27 plate appearances. When combined with his nine hits, that comes to an amazing .607 on-base percentage.
Obviously, this is a small sample size that occured during spring training, but it shows me that Heyward should be able to continue producing as he has throughout the minors.
Going by the projected starters' numbers from 2009, a .391 on-base percentage would put Heyward at the top spot on the Braves lineup.
Throw in the fact that Heyward has decent speed (nothing like Jose Reyes, but enough to get 15 to 20 steals), and he seems the obvious choice to leadoff.
Again, I really don’t think that McLouth will struggle as much as last year, but either way, Heyward may be the best leadoff option that the Braves have in 2010.